The Tazumal and San Andrés ruins indicate that the Maya lived here for more than 1000 years before being replaced by Nahuatl speaking Pipil tribes related to the Toltec in the post classic period (around 1100 AD).
Fourteen families held most of the land when El Salvador gained independence from Spain in 1821. They maintained their control through the short Mexican episode and the Liberal inspired Central American Federation and practically owned the country when it became a sovereign nation in 1841.
As coffee became the most important cash crop, the wealthy cafetaleros expanded their holdings at the expense of the indigenous population. By the 20th century, coffee exports provided 95% of El Salvador's income to only 2% of the population.
Unions were severely repressed. In 1932 30 000 Indian peasants were killed by the military when they rebelled under the leadership of Augustin Farabundo Marti, the founder of the Central American Socialist Party (Marti was also arrested and killed.)
In 1972, José Napoleon Duarte of the Christian Democrat Party was elected but he was immediately arrested and exiled by the military who put their own people in power. The extreme right countered guerrilla activity by creating "death squads" that kidnaped, tortured and murdered thousands of Salvadorans. The assassination of Archbishop Romero in 1980 sparked outright civil war. Where the guerrillas gained control , the military retaliated by murdering whole villages like El Mozote where 900 men, women and children were massacred. That is when the Reagan administration sponsored the Contra War against Nicaragua to prevent the Sandinistas from supplying arms to the surviving rebels. In El Salvador the conflict escalated and 300 000 refugees fled as the US poured in millions of military aid.
Finally, after 12 years of civil war an cease fire was signed in 1992 after 75 000 people had been killed to preserve the interests of 14 land-owning families. During that time, the US gave six billion dollars to the Salvadoran government "to stem the growth of communism".
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El Salvador was just getting over years of civil war when I was there in 1993. Thousands had been killed the in the struggle between the military authorities defending landowners and the rebel elements of the impoverished population. Many had fled to become refugees wherever they could.
A truce had been signed but the economy was in shambles and the people who remained had a hard time to make ends meet.
In Santa Tecla, a suburb of the capital San Salvador, I stated with the Escobar family to whom I had been introduced by refugees living in Canada and Costa Rica.
The Escobar extended family was very large as it included uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and distant relatives. It also included members of their Evangelical Church group some of which are shown here having a religious meeting in the Escobar home.
As anywhere else, religions thrive in times of hardship when people naturally grasp at any twig of hope. Here hardship was intense as the fear for one's physical safety made the economic problems more difficult to bear.
Here, Elva Alicia Escobar is having her maize ground into "masa" at the local mill. Corn, seeped in lime to break down the tough outer husk and ground into a paste is the staple of the Salvadorian people. Masa is cooked into plain tortillas or is stuffed with cheese, bean paste or meat sheds to make pupusas which are a distinctive Salvadorian speciality.
The civil war killing had stopped but common crime blossomed out of control as 80% of the 60 000 strong armed forces were suddenly released from service as per the cease fire accords. These 50 000 ex-soldiers and an equal number of ex-guerrillas, now without a cause nor support, had to feed themselves and their families. It is not surprising that a high proportion of them turned to crime; killing was the only thing they had been trained to do and many had no qualms to do it for only a few colones.
The people were terrorised when I was there in February 1993. Terrorised but courageous as they went about their difficult lives. No one dared go out on the street alone at night. When they had to, like after a prayer meeting for example, they would form groups to accompany each other making sure that nobody would risk being out on the street alone.
Some were particularly courageous like this young teacher, Dinorah Margarita Savaria, who walked alone through the hills several kilometres every day to reach the isolated villages where she taught children and adults to read and write.
My friends tried to dissuade me from visiting Maya archaeological sites as I had planned for they thought it would not be safe. When I told them I would risk seeing Tazumal by myself they decided to form a group to accompany me.
The Tazumal site is of particular interest for there is evidence that it has been occupied almost continuously since 5000 BC. Tazumal, was a Maya regional cultural centre from 300 BC to 1100 AD. It marks the southernmost extension of the Maya culture.
Below left, Herberto Peña, a relative of the Escobar family, who generously provided transport for half of our group. On the right... you know who.
The Maya ruins at San Andrés, halfway between Tazumal and Santa Tecla, are attributed to the Pipil tribes that moved into this area after the end of the classic period ( around 1100 AD).
The area around the San Andrés site has not been fully explored as it was discovered only in 1977. At least a dozen mounds remain to be investigated.
The study of Maya sites in El Salvador has been neglected during the civil war and the ongoing period of unrest that followed.